The Los Angeles City Council and Redistricting Commission clashed for weeks before agreeing on the new set of district maps for the next 10 years. But there was one thing on which they saw eye to eye from the get-go: reuniting Koreatown under one city district.
Thanks to grassroots efforts led by a multicultural, multigenerational coalition for nearly a decade, the densely populated, three-square-mile neighborhood with 120,000 residents has gone from being spread across four different districts to united under one.
“Now that Koreatown is truly united into one district, these residents will just have one clear politician responsible for their area and have one person to call to take care of all their issues,” says Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA) Voting Rights Staff Attorney Sara Rohani, who is one of many community leaders and advocates who fought hard for the change.
The previous redistricting maps following the 2010 Census split Koreatown into four different city districts, which led to massive neglect for those residents, especially in low-income areas, according to Rohani.
“[The previous maps] diluted the voices of the minority communities. Councilmembers determine housing issues, street maintenance, [and] land use zoning, which are super important issues for an area as dense as Koreatown.”
Without a cohesive leader to turn to, community members have said they struggle to find solutions to major issues like rising homelessness and even small problems like trash accumulation.
The City Council’s previous mapping decision to split up the neighborhood was so jarring for some Koreatown residents that they took to the streets to call for change and unsuccessfully sued the city.
“The last cycle in 2011 really left a [bad] taste in people’s mouths. When we were starting to engage with members of the Koreatown community [this time], many residents were really weary of the process in and of itself.”
Fast forward to 2021, engaging with diverse leaders and community groups helped elevate the cause of a united Koreatown, according to Rohani.
Despite its name, Koreatown isn’t just a Korean American neighborhood. In fact, Latinos make up the largest share of the population. Organizers tapped into that diversity and built a coalition of Latino, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), Bangladesh and Jewish leaders.
“This wasn't a movement in support of one specific group. It was a movement in support of a community and a diverse community at that.”
Working alongside groups like the Koreatown Youth and Community Center, advocates were able to conduct outreach and educational workshops in multiple languages, including Spanish, English and Korean.
Those efforts seemed to have paid off. While Mayor Eric Garcetti still needs to approve the final redistricting maps, Rouhani says once that happens, it could be harder to split the united Koreatown up again.
“It would really be flouting with the support of the community and the commission itself, [who] really wanted to unify Koreatown.”